Early Days at Ingmanthorpe by Anthony Bickersteth (1945 - 1949)

I was interested in Graham Deacons contribution to the Wenningtonian Newsletter of July 2002. He described himself as a Wennington Hallian and spoke of his happy and enjoyable three years at Wennington Hall. I have never visited Wennington Hall but remember, years ago, stopping for a moment at Wennington station and noting how beautiful was the Pennine country through which the train passed.

Graham left before the move to Ingmanthorpe Hall but those of us who arrived at the School just after, (September 1945), will remember those youngsters who experienced both venues and found the move hard to accept. I recall one boy declaring Old Wennington was the real Wennington. This place will never be Wennington to those of us who know both places. People like this, the crossover people if you like, spoke of Old Wennington with great affection. Everything was so good at Old Wennington - what a pity the School ever moved...

It is said to be a sure sign of old age when memories of long ago are vivid and recent events hardly register. For some reason I seem to remember those early days at Ingmanthorpe particularly well, although some of my contemporaries might put me right on detail. When I first met Kenneth with my parents at the end of August 1945 it seemed that the hall at Ingmanthorpe was cluttered with boxes and packing cases of all sizes as he explained that the School was still moving in.

It was a curiously shambolic time. There were no proper classrooms and all lessons had to take place in the rooms of the main building which of necessity had to be multi-purpose, (with the possible exception of art and woodwork). Yet we survived and there was a lot of fun to be had in the house and grounds which were definitely never designed to be a school. I remember the wonderful see-saw contraption half way to the wood, which had two see-saws one over the other in a figure X which also turned around on its own axis. What fun we had until the day when the whole thing began to fall apart under the continuous strain of so many children's indulgence.

Staff during that first term were as follows:-       
Kenneth     Science
Frances      English Lang. & Lit.
Louis      Art
David     Maths.
Peggy      History
Foster     Geography
Frank     Woodwork
Edith      Matron

Then, in the early spring of 1946 it all began to happen. We came to realise that to the School authorities the status quo was clearly not acceptable. The grounds of Ingmanthorpe were peppered with magnificent beech trees which had been maturing for many years - and then there was the wood with many fine trees as well. Although not a gold-mine it was clear the School was sitting on a ready resource - and so the woodcutters moved in. Trees were felled on every side and tractors churned up the soft earth dragging the timber to where it could be loaded onto huge transporters which took it away. What excitement there was when the most massive tree of all, right next to the gym, was in the process of being felled during break one morning. The whole school went on strike and refused to leave until the tree came down. Attendance at lessons was nil and Kenneth came out to see what was going on. Admitting defeat he said we could remain, (we would have done so any way), until the tree was down. As it happened, it was some time in falling as extreme care had to be taken to ensure it did not damage adjacent buildings and particularly the gym. What a wonderful rending crash it was and it fell exactly where they wanted it to. I should mention that not all the trees were felled and care was taken to employ a thinning process where a clump of beeches was particularly dramatic.
 An account of this period would not be complete without mention of the onyx bathroom. This bathroom was situated over the common room and consisted of a huge square bath let into the floor, which would bath up to ten children at a time. The bath, floor and walls were all lined with onyx marble and the enormous weight of this had to be supported on concrete pillars cunningly hidden by panelling in the room below. The onyx bath proved enormously popular and in true Wennington fashion mixed bathing without costumes was the order of the day. Somehow news of this leaked out to the people of Wetherby who were scandalised and much tut-tutting against the School was to be heard. Sadly the bath had to go as this too was a valuable asset. I believe it was sold for about 2000 - a tidy sum for those days.

Then the builders moved in. What dramatic times these were. Garages along the west side of the courtyard had their roofs removed while a new biology lab, and two staff flats were built over, the garages being converted into the new science lab. Other buildings on the north side were converted into classrooms and the junior school. Building work was everywhere, a new covered passage linked the main building with the cloakrooms, toilets were provided for the girls and a urinal for the boys in the small courtyard by the kitchen area. New larger windows were provided in the workshop and Louis gained a conversion job in the stables when a pottery and adjacent kiln were added. Frank seemed content with his sleeping accommodation in the converted summer-house by the swimming pool and accommodation for two members of staff was created out of the summer-house on the terrace by the staff room.

We were delighted with our new accommodation. Roger arrived and took command of the new biology lab. (replacing Foster in geography). Tony took over the subject of French and immediately set about doing all he could to immerse us in Gallic culture with much singing of traditional French songs and the subtle addition of French posters on the classroom walls.

All the building work was complete and there was even some money left over to repair the worst of the pot-holes in the drive. The Italian prisoners who worked in the fields and whistled at the girls were being repatriated and the School settled down in its new quarters. Those from Wennington Hall were perhaps beginning grudgingly to admit that Ingmanthorpe wasn't so bad after all. In any case they were fewer now, some had gone and newcomers had arrived.

It was a good thing all was complete before the coldest winter of the century closed in. We had six week of nightly blizzards and time and again the drive was blocked with snowdrifts. Mind you, we loved it really. There was a pond (probably long gone) just on the turn of the drive in front of the house, where we had a superb slide. With a small run you could travel about twenty feet along the ice...

Frank Burgess once said to my parents that the School was in its experimental stage during the early years at Wennington Hall. If this was so it must surely be true to say that by 1945 it knew where it was going. A year or so after the move to Yorkshire the Ministry of Education sent a team of inspectors to stay with us for a few days and attempt to classify us. Shortly after, Kenneth had a letter to say it had been decided that we were a grammar school. Most seemed pleased by this, but it still seems to me (as it did then) that to attempt to classify Wennington in any way, was to attempt the impossible...

Anthony Bickersteth 1945-1949

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